Andrew Dice Clay, Fox's 'Dad's,' and Audiences vs. 'The Critics'

September 17, 2013

In his (excellent*) collection of essays on villains and our reaction to them, Chuck Klosterman writes a bit about Andrew Dice Clay's insane level of popularity for a brief moment in the early 1990s. He suggests that part of Clay's success—a large part, perhaps all of it—was due to the fact that, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, political correctness was one of the dominant modes of social discourse.

Writes Klosterman:

Every casual conversation suddenly had the potential to get someone fired. It was a great era for white people hoping to feel less racist by accusing other white people of being very, very racist. A piece of art could be classified as sexist simply because it ignored the concept of sexism. Any intended message mattered less than the received message, and every received message could be interpreted in whatever way the receiver wanted. So this became a problem for everybody. It was painlessly oppressive, and the backlash was stupid and adversarial. It drove artists to linguistic extremes, and it drove audiences to Andrew Dice Clay.

Klosterman thinks that the idea of political correctness as it applies to modern day living is anachronistic. If you've read my pieces on the politicized life, you probably aren't surprised to find that I disagree. Indeed, I think we're reaching a tipping point similar to the one that spawned Clay and his imitators. And the TV networks are picking up on it.

If you watched any football on Fox this weekend, you may have seen an ad for the new show Dad's. It stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as a pair of young adults whose dads, played by Martin Mull and Peter Riegert, move back in with them. (Or some such.) The show itself looks minimally interesting. Far more intriguing to me is the ad that Fox used to promote it:

On the one hand it's a bit of expert trolling on behalf of Fox, one that was sure to gin up tons and tons of free publicity. For instance:

You get the idea. OK, one more: Here's NPR's Linda Holmes with a snap review of the ad on Twitter:

Now, if I asked why this sort of branding appeals to people, I imagine that Holmes would say that it never went away. She might point to Seth MacFarlane as the sort of person who she finds to be unfunny-yet-successful-due-to-crudeness. And there's likely a bit of truth to that.

But I also think we've headed into another period that helped spawn the likes of Clay. There are a number of critics who spend their time worrying about the morally and politically problematic nature of the entertainments offered us. They chide the networks for failing to understand the enlightened world in which we live. Like the censors/censurers of old—the Moral Majority, the Parents Television Council—they are worried about audiences being corrupted. They dismiss these entertainments as "not funny" when what they mean is "offensive to my sensibilities and therefore not worthy of laughing at and oh, by the way, you're a bad person for enjoying it."

It's no wonder that audiences are pushing back: no one likes to be told they are repellent for uttering a laugh. It is interesting to watch the networks push back, however. They have thus far refused to be cowed by calls to change the show and, indeed, appear to be doubling down. It will be interesting to see if the gambit pays off.

*Chuck Klosterman is one of those writers who is irrationally hated by an inordinate number of people I like and respect. Haters gonna hate, success breeds contempt, etc. For my money he's one of the most entertaining cultural critics out there, even when he's a bit glib.